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“Unconstitutional” ICBC Expert Witness Rule Struck Down By BC Supreme Court

Earlier this year BC’s Attorney General surprised the legal community with changes to the BC Supreme Court Rules limiting the number of expert reports in motor vehicle injury prosecutions.  The rule changes were brought without notice to the profession, were retroactive and were drafted to save a primary litigant, ICBC, money at the cost of the substantive rights of individuals before the judiciary.

In April a legal challenge was launched arguing these changes were unconstitutional.

Today the Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court ruled on challenge and declared that these changes were “of no force and effect” due to their unconstitutional nature.

Mr. Justice Hinkson provided the following reasons finding these changes were out of line:

[120]     I find that the effect of the impugned Rule is to change the substantive law of evidence that has guided this Court from its inception, and I find that this is not one of the exceptional cases referred to by Justice Lambert where the Rules may create new substantive law. Accordingly, I find that the Rule 11-8 Orders (and with it, the impugned Rule) are not authorized by the Act…

[164]     The impugned Rule does more than limit the court’s discretion; it eliminates it, and that is the petitioners’ complaint.

[165]     The arbitrary limit of three expert witnesses to address damages, unless there is agreement to more by the parties or expert witnesses are chosen by the court could result in the very unfairness discussed by McLachlin J. in Porto Seguro…

[172]     …the impugned Rule places the court in a role that it should not be placed in. Transferring the responsibility of ensuring that there is relevant evidence upon which to decide the issues in a personal injury case from the parties to the court does, in my view, intrude upon what has, to date, been the core function of the court: to decide a case fairly upon the evidence adduced by the parties…

[185]     Considering the totality of the submissions and the evidence before me, I find that the impugned Rule compromises and dilutes the role of the court, and encroaches upon a core area of the court’s jurisdiction to control its process…

[197]     The petition is allowed in part.

[198]     I declare that the Rule 11-8 Orders are, in part, contrary to s. 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and thus unconstitutional and of no force or effect. In the result, sub Rules 11-8 (3), (4), and (5) are set aside. In the result sub Rules 11-8(10) and (11) must also be set aside.

Reading between the lines of the judgment the Court suggests that a ‘soft’ expert witness cap may be possible provided the Court retains real discretion to allow parties to marshall all the evidence necessary to prove their case.   Such a rule could likely be crafted and receive the support of various stakeholders who access the Courts in such claims.